BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. This Memorial Day, an extended Nightline, called The Fallen, will be devoted entirely to reading the name and showing the photos of the 900 plus service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan since last May. The same format, when it was aired last year, incited sharp criticism from the Sinclair Broadcast Group, who refused to air it on its eight ABC affiliates. Sinclair complained that the show appeared, (quote) "to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States and Iraq. Not so this year. In fact, Sinclair has praised Nightline for bringing the names and faces of the dead to its viewers' attention.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Fallen is now a yearly tribute, but what of the daily coverage of the dead and the wounded? Countless lives on both sides have been ended or reshaped by a war well into its third year, yet we rarely, if ever, see pictures of the casualties, especially American casualties. Recently, Los Angeles Times reporter James Rainey surveyed six major U.S. papers and two news magazines during a six month period to find out how many pictures of American casualties had run in their pages. He found that, while 559 Americans and their allies died during that period, only one picture of a fallen American soldier ran.
JAMES RAINEY: On picture in eight publications over six months really doesn't give you much of an accounting of the many people who were killed. I think there were about 570 U.S. soldiers and marines killed during that time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how about pictures of Iraqi dead?
JAMES RAINEY: The Iraqi dead, there were quite a few more pictures. For instance, in our paper during that time, there were 22 photos of, of Iraqis killed. There were about 20 of Iraqis wounded. On, on the American side, there has been some effort to hold back or to censor photos. Often, it's not outright censorship. It's holding the photos for what everybody agrees is a good reason, which is notification of family members. But if the photo gets three or four days or a week old, suddenly it's not newsworthy. It no longer makes the newspaper. So that is one factor. We did find that a large factor was just simply when you'll have an explosion, a roadside bomb, a sniper attack and Americans are killed or wounded, often there's not a photographer anywhere in the area.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So there are logistics, but how do the soldiers in the field themselves feel about it when the embedded photographers who have been with them all along suddenly start shooting pictures of, of terrible events?
JAMES RAINEY: Well, the soldiers, I, I think it's a very difficult situation for them. I think they come to really respect the photographers. I mean, after all, these photographers are right there at the front. They're armed only with a camera. They're being shot at, right along with the soldiers. But when a soldier or marine is killed, obviously there's a lot of sadness, and often what I've found in my reporting happens is the soldiers kind of unite in common cause, and unfortunately for the journalist at that point, they become sort of the outsider or the other, and they often suffer consequences like one of our photographers did in Najaf. Carolyn Cole, last August, was trying to get pictures of some casualties who were brought back into a base there along with Tyler Hicks, the New York Times photographer, and the soldiers simply have set up a kind of human shield, if you will, a blockade, and did prevent the two photographers from getting those pictures of I think at least two soldiers who'd been killed and several who were wounded.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you also discovered that some photojournalists are choosing to withhold certain images on their own.
JAMES RAINEY: Yeah. One case that I wrote about was about Dean Hoffmeyer who's a photographer from a newspaper in Virginia. He was embedded with a unit, and he was almost blown up himself when a suicide bomber hit the base. He pulled himself up, and the first thing he saw was this young soldier right next to him who was bleeding profusely from the neck, and people were trying to help the soldier, and Dean, by instinct, he started taking pictures. He later just felt that it was too personal. It was, it was too intrusive, and that maybe the pictures were so bloody that his editors back here in the United States wouldn't be willing to run them. He told me thinking about what would it have been like if his, his own son had been caught in a situation like that. How would he feel about seeing those photos. He put all that together, and he just decided he wasn't going to send the photos, and in fact, he never showed them to his editor until he got back to the United States. In the United States, there's just been a tradition where editors here don't tend to show that, and that's something that's just been continued in this war, and maybe exacerbated even a little bit by concerns about appearing unpatriotic or unsupportive of the troops.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do we even know for sure that if somebody views these pictures, these very sad and horrible pictures, that it will necessarily turn them against the war?
JAMES RAINEY: No, not necessarily. There was a survey done about one of the photos that we ran with our series which was of a young soldier who was killed in Baghdad - a fellow named Travis Babbitt. The Associated Press managing editors did a survey of that and other graphic photos and actually found out, of thousands of readers who they asked about this, something like 59, 60 percent of the readers said yes, you should run a picture like this, and one of the readers in particular said, you know, God bless this young man and his service to his country. That's what this picture tells me. This picture doesn't tell me we should leave Iraq. It tells me that the ultimate sacrifice is being made there by our troops. So, unfortunately this debate sometimes gets divided up - conservatives, liberals - conservatives don't want the pictures; liberals do. But what I've found in reporting this story is that people need to see these pictures, because they then have the information. They can process it in any way they want. And some of them are deciding, well, that's the price of trying to help the Iraqi people, and I'm willing to pay it. Other people see them and, and they draw the opposite conclusion.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jim, thank you very much.
JAMES RAINEY: Thanks for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jim Rainey is media writer for the Los Angeles Times.